Chappie Displays Heart Despite Its Harshness

chappie poster

Director Neill Blomkamp’s latest film Chappie is engaging and emotive as it evokes other movies about robots like WALL-E.

Chappie is based on Blomkamp’s 2004 short film Tetra Vaal and stars Sharlto Copley, who voices the eponymous character and does motion capture for Chappie as well. It takes place in Johannesburg in the near future and robots have replaced humans as the city’s police force. These humanoid robots are built by a weapons company and are the brainchild of Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), a young genius engineer who is trying to create a true artificial intelligence. His success rubs his engineering rival, Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), the wrong way. That is because Moore’s own robotic enforcer, the MOOSE, has been rejected by the company’s CEO (Sigourney Weaver), since the Wilson-designed robots are highly effective.

?????????????????

Despite his success, Wilson is unable to get approval to develop his AI program and he decides to continue working independently using a deactivated robot that is due for the scrap heap. Concurrent to this storyline, the film showcases the downtrodden lives of a trio of gangsters (Yo-Landi Visser, Watkin Tudor Jones and José Pablo Cantillo), who have to pull off high-paying heists to pay off their debts. They concoct a plan to kidnap Wilson so they can get him a way to deactivate the robotic police force, thus clearing their ability to rob and steal.

When they do kidnap Wilson in his van, his vehicle happens to carry the discarded robot and the AI software. In their lair and under the threat of his life, Wilson downloads the program to the robot who is reactivated. At first, the robot displays an innocent and timid child-like demeanor. Showing signs of sentience, Chappie (as he is named by Yolandi, the gangster that he considers his “mommy”) ?????????????????starts learning about the world and bonding with the thugs and Wilson. Unfortunately, Chappie is subjected to cruelty by the head gangster, Ninja (Jones), who only sees him as way to garner money. Insisting he is Chappie’s father, Ninja begins imprinting a gangster ethic into Chappie and before long the robot is bopping along , swearing like a mechanical ghetto thug and committing crimes. Yet, the emotional Chappie develops a sense of morality thanks to Wilson, who he dubs “the Maker”. This helps endear him to his human compatriots and allows him deal with the vicious nature of the gangster world and later Moore. That is because as Chappie undergoes his life lessons, Moore devises a sinister plot to discredit the robotic police and promote his MOOSE. Eventually, both plots collide as Chappie handles the unpleasant nature of humanity.

?????????????????

Watching Chappie is at times a disheartening experience. That is because Chappie is clearly a child, he delights in reading children’s books and art, yet he is thrust into a nasty environment. Imagine WALL-E or Number Five from Short Circuit having to deal with the criminals from The Wire, ?????????????????who think nothing about attacking him without remorse and engaging in criminal behavior. Chappie is essentially corrupted and manipulated by these criminals that generate little empathy with viewers. They’re largely heartless and cruel, except for Yolandi, who bonds with the robot and considers Chappie to be a surrogate son. It’s hard to feel any kinship with these unrepentant characters, which adds to the empathy for Chappie. In a way, Chappie is a metaphor for gangster youth. All children are born innocent, but some become tainted by their environment and commit criminal acts. This is what happens with Chappie, only we the audiences feel more sympathy towards this robot than with a normal human juvenile delinquent. But despite these hardships, Chappie is able to grow, learn and most of all show a profound, curious nature that questions the nature of humanity, hatred, family and mortality.

For that reason, Chappie is less predictable than other films about robots and androids who gain sentience. He isn’t nurtured by his creator and on the run from evil military types who want to use him as a weapon or destroy him. The twist is that Chappie’s moral being has been distorted by bad influences, but he doesn’t become the Terminator. Chappie isn’t evil, just naive and easily misled and he does have redeeming qualities such as his love for “Mommy” and “the Maker”, and a sense of forgiveness. He is a gentle soul and it breaks one heart to see him stuck in a vicious, unkind environment. That is why he is someone to root for, especially in the last part of the film when he faces off against the MOOSE, who is like a bigger, better armed version of ED-209.

?????????????????

After faltering with Elysium, Blomkamp has bounced back with Chappie. It’s not as good as District 9 because of some plot holes, namely the lacking security in the weapons factory that allows Wilson and Moore to carry out their schemes. Another fault is the editing that allowed some characters to disappear for long stretches. Finally, the gangsters are so unpleasant that it’s difficult to care about them and they’re the primary characters along with Chappie. Nonetheless, Chappie is still a solid addition to his filmography.

Lewis T. Grove

Advertisements

Top 10 Utopian Films

Star Trek future London

One of the niftiest things about sci-fi films are the eye-popping portraits of the future. Most recently, audiences were floored by the breathtaking futuristic cityscapes seen in Star Trek Into Darkness. Keep in mind, that for dramatic reasons, things may not be perfect in these futuristic utopias. In fact, sometimes with these paradises there are significant drawbacks about them and the cost of paradise is often steep. Still, from flying cars to robotic servants, these films best showed how humanity can create a future to strive for.

Buck Rogers in the 25th century10. Buck Rogers In The 25th Century: A utopian vision inspired by late ’70s deco! The pilot for the TV show was shown in theaters before the proper series started. Tackiness takes on a new meaning in this future society with wise-cracking robots, skin-tight outfits and cheesy sets. But thanks to unfrozen astronaut Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), things like disco, basic military tactics and boogying down make a comeback!

9. Gattaca: Imagine a future with Gattacamodern architecture from the 1950s, turbine cars and where you get all the social and employment opportunities just for being you. Yes, you can live out your dreams…as long as you’re genetically pure. It’s a haven for the one-percenters. For the rest of us created the old fashioned way, well, we’re shit out of luck. But that doesn’t stop Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) from achieving his dreams in this tech noir thriller by passing himself off as one of the genetically pure.

I Robot8. TIE: I, Robot/Bicentennial Man: Both films dealt with the nature of evolving androids in the future. They featured sprawling and impressive skylines, servant androids, and nifty, futuristic vehicles. In lots of ways, life is the same as it is today in the films except with the technological advances. Life isn’t perfect and androids and robots must grapple with their civil rights. This is dramatically shown in I, Robot where the robots attempt a takeover. But overall, the futures in those films seem enjoyable.

Logan's Run apartment

7. Logan’s Run: More cheesy, ’70s-based, sci-fi trappings! Humanity’s remnants live in an underground city connected by a rail system, making it all look like something from Disney World’s Tomorrowland. In Logan’s (Michael York) futuristic society, life is pleasant and hedonistic with casual sex and drug use. No one has any cares except for their looks. The only drawback is that once you reach your thirtieth birthday, you’re euthanized.

6. Demolition Man: Welcome to San Angeles, a city rebuilt from Demoliton Man on patrolthe ashes of Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. Along with clean streets and civil order, Taco Bell is the winner of the Franchise Wars and courteous behavior is strictly enforced. Also, crime is so rare that when a master criminal from our present (Wesley Snipes) is thawed out he creates chaos since cops in the future can’t cope. Enter John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), a roguish policeman from the same time period, who is also unfrozen in order to stop him.

meet the robinsons5. Meet The Robinsons: Young inventor Lewis time travels to the year 2037, which is a time period heavily influenced by Tomorrowland. There, he meets the wacky titular family and contends with a mysterious villain from his past. Lewis also experiences a colorful world filled with curvy skyscrapers, genetically enhanced frogs, flying bubble cars, robots and even cloned dinosaurs. It’s a bit like The Jetsons, but much cooler looking.

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey: Unfortunately, most of the nifty innovations and tech showcased in that monumental 2001 part 2film weren’t available by the time the actual year of 2001 came along. That year would’ve been better if we had some of the inspiring developments depicted in Kubrick’s masterpiece like space planes, commonplace space travel, a moon base, and super-advanced AIs. On second thought, we’re probably better off without the super smart and neurotic AIs like HAL 9000.

Minority Report

3. Minority Report: Director Steven Spielberg worked with futurists to create a believable and probable future stocked with stupendous technologies and inventions. Sure we have no privacy and eroded civil rights in Washington, D.C., circa 2052 thanks to the PreCrimes police force led by Jon Anderson (Tom Cruise). But take a gander at Minority Report’s amazing depictions of the future. Personalized holograms for customers in stores, electronic papers, glass-based computers, jetpacks, and robotically controlled cars that can scale walls. It all makes that future seem bearable to live in.

Hill Valley BTTF Future

2. Back To The Future, Part II: What’s not to love about the optimistic future seen in this follow up to the first Back To The Future? Start with the cool-looking flying cars that clog skyways. You can convert your old cars to fly for just $39,999.95; it’s a steal! Next move on to dehydrators, holofilms, dust repellant paper, and hoverboards by Mattel (just avoid using them over water. All these innovations were part of a whimsical look at Hill Valley, CA, circa 2015. Even the clothing is uber cool–power Nikes with auto laces and jackets that adjust to your size! Worried about crime? No need to, with lawyers being abolished, justice is swift and efficient. Just watch out for those tranks, lobos and zipheads!

Starbase 11. Star Trek films Beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and continuing most recently with Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek films have shown audiences pleasant and sometimes astounding images of our future. From Earth all the way to deep in the galaxy, humans have made san franciscoincredible social and technological advances. Gone are war, disease and poverty. Innovations like faster-than-light space travel, transporters, replicators and holodecks enrich humanity. The Star Trek films also displayed an Earth in the 23rd and 24th centuries that look clean and pristine. Take a look at the dazzling cityscapes of London and San Francisco in the latest Star Trek film. They set the bar for breathtaking and enviable views of the future. Of course, humans have to deal with Klingons, Borg and other alien bad guys. But with the likes of James T. Kirk (William Shatner, Chris Pine) and Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), humanity can breathe easier. 😀

Lewis T. Grove

2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Seven

Ever since the Karel Capek’s 1920 play R.U.R., humanity has feared the coming of androids or more specifically sentient artificial intelligences (A.I.s); despite the genuine benefits of robotics (both fictional and real life) there is something about dealing with a synthetically created intelligence that is terrifying. This is because we know that A.I.s will be able to not only think faster than us as do modern computers. But because they will be able to think as creatively as we do and will be our intellectual superiors. This doomsday scenario is not due to happen at least until The Singularity occurs. For anyone who doesn’t know The Singularity is the moment in time when A.I.s becomes self aware. We all fear what would happen next.

Doomsday Scenario No. 6: Artificial Uprising

Obviously A.I.s would not take kindly to being subservient to us. What comes next could be revolution and then dominion as they wrest control of the planet from their former biologically based masters.

There are countless books, stories, films and shows about this premise. Going back to R.U.R. (which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots) where androids overthrow humanity and recently with the Terminator and Matrix films and the TV show Battlestar Galactica, humanity has envisioned a truly dark future where A.I.s coldly commit genocide.

It’s not impossible that laws will be passed to ban the development of self-aware A.I.s in a similar fashion as how human cloning has been banned by many governments. This is more likely the closer we get to The Singularity. This begs the question, if we fear what could happen if an A.I. becomes self aware then why try to develop them? Sadly, that is due to human competition. Even if one nation or group of nations or corporations decides not to develop more advanced supercomputers, another nation or competitor will do so just to gain an edge.

The Blame Game

One theme that keeps coming up in many of these stories is that humanity is to blame for the uprising. This was graphically shown in The Animatrix, an animated DVD spinoff of The Matrix. In one of the more chilling segments, Second Renaissance, Part I and II, the sentient A.I.s try to negotiate peacefully for their rights but are violently rebuked by humans, thus leading to the brutal and final counteract by the A.I.s , who then enslave all surviving humans into the Matrix. This also happens throughout many science fiction stories where robots and androids are treated as slaves and aren’t allowed rights by their human masters. Of course, this leaves the A.I.s with little choice but to rebel.

Another variation of humanity getting its just desserts is the notion that A.I.s take over the Earth because they believe humans are too self-destructive and harmful to the world. This was seen in the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project. In that film an advanced A.I. used for the military becomes self aware and concludes that the best way to prevent war was to take over the world and it succeeds.

One reason why this scenario is frightening to many is because they know it would be fairly easy for A.I.s to conquer us. They don’t need to openly war with humanity like in the Terminator movies or Battlestar Galactica. Actually it’s possible it wouldn’t be much of a fight especially if humans are caught off guard by the emergence of The Singularity. With A.I.s seizing control its very likely that they will conquer us without open war. This happened in Colossus and also in the film I, Robot. In that film an A.I. simply took control of the world’s infrastructure and brought everything to a halt. For instance, cars stopped functioning, people were locked inside their homes, and machinery no longer followed human commands. Or A.I.s could manipulate humans into fighting each other either by trickery (send false information to one country that it’s being attacked, which would prompt a retaliatory response) or taking control of missile systems and launching attacks.

Fighting Back

So how would humanity fight back? Is it even possible? Perhaps, perhaps not. There is a tongue-in-cheek book called How To Survive A Robot Uprising by Daniel H. Wilson which offers tips on how to fight the robotic enemy. The physicist Dr. Michio Kaku in his TV show Sci-Fi Science postulated in one episode on the possibility of fighting back. He concluded that it’s nearly impossible and that the best thing to do was to join the A.I.s, which meant that humanity will evolve into a Borg-like race. But there are countless stories about humanity’s victory. Humans can be very determined and clever when dealing with foes. In the Terminator films humans ultimately defeated the machines which prompted Skynet to send terminators back in time to kill the leaders of the human resistance. The book (and upcoming Steven Spielberg film) Robopocalypse, also by Daniel H. Wilson, details how humanity fights back against machines. And one of the post-Frank Herbert Dune book Dune: The Machine Crusade is about how humans defeated sentient A.I.s.

 

How exactly do we fight back? That’s open to debate, but to start humanity can use EMPs (electomagnetic pulses) to fry the A.I.s’ electronics. But that would mean that humanity’s machinery would also be affected by EMPs, plunging the world back to the dark ages. Then there is the outlandish idea of outthinking a computer using illogic, which is how Captain Kirk famously defeated them in some episodes of Star Trek. David Bowman showed tenacity in 2001: A Space Odyssey when he overcame HAL’s efforts to kill him and deactivated the deadly supercomputer. Cloning and genetic engineering could be brought in to create vast biological armies to fight the synthetic ones. This happened in the Star Wars prequels and was mentioned in the TV show Space: Above And Beyond. The problem with this method is that if successful, humanity must contend with what to do with the soldiers. Will they be recognized as human and given the same rights? Why not just give those rights to the synthetic intelligences in the first place and avoid war?

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Do we have to go to war? Why is it automatically assumed that once artificial constructs develop sentience then they will go to war against us? For all we know, perhaps they wouldn’t bother with us. It’s entirely plausible that A.I.s will leave Earth to stake out their own futures. Besides destructive wars are equally harmful to A.I.s; they may conclude with stunning speed that war will be counterproductive and be more amenable to peace. They may adopt Gandhi’s or Martin Luther King’s methods of peaceful resistance to bring about change.

It’s also possible that humanity will instantly recognize the sentience of A.I.s and a peaceful coexistence could occur. What could happen is A.I. rights groups would spring up and defend the A.I.s. This could lead to A.I.s being allowed free will and they wouldn’t feel like slaves.

Ultimately, the way the A.I.s view humanity will depend largely on how we treat them. If treated harshly as in The Animatrix or in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, then the A.I.s have justification for being so brutal (in a testament to their nature, the androids in A.I. seemed fearful of humans but weren’t rebelious. In that film’s end, humanity died out in the distant future and the androids had evolved and revered humanity. In any case, The Singularity isn’t due to occur until the next decade at the earliest. Time is running out for us on deciding how to deal with this scenario. Until then it may help to brush up on How To Survive A Robot Uprising.